eXile's 2nd Annual Worst Journalist Tournament

Louis Proyect lnp3 at SPAMpanix.com
Wed Feb 14 09:14:11 MST 2001

Issue #28/109, Feb 8 - Feb 22, 2001 [The eXile - Moscow's Only Alternative!]


The eXile's 2nd Annual Worst Journalist Tournament Tips Off

They're all back in town again-all hyped up for the Big Dance. Throngs of
knob-polishing co-ed cheerleaders in two-tone skirts, ready-made trophies,
standing doe-legged and glassy-eyed at the end of the players' bench. Each
one watches the score and wonders: who will call her number tonight? A
starter, or a reserve? The sleek, crotch-grabbing two-guard with dreds, or
the white seven-footer with the highway of pimples down his back? Will the
call come from a winner or a loser-and will it make a difference? If the
game goes the wrong way, will she end up a fourth-paragraph mention in some
complicated police report involving a loaded Walther and a Super 8 suite?

Who knows? She doesn't know. All she can do is watch the score. Shake the
pom-poms, do a midair split, land with a thud in a gay gymnast's arms, and
turn around to face the scoreboard again.

Keep an eye on the score. That's all any of us can do. None of us knows our
fate-until the last buzzer sounds...

The eXile's Worst Journalist Tournament follows a very simple format. We
took 32 of Moscow's leading foreign correspondents and bracketed them into
pairs. The reporter who writes the worse article advances. There's no
objective criteria involved: we just decide. We don't even need a good
reason. A headline alone can send a reporter into the next round. That's
not to say that we've decided in advance who's going to win. This is as
much a process of discovery for us as it is for U, the fan. We ourselves
are curious to find out who's really the worst of the worst. The New York
Times's Michael Wines is our number one seed, and it wouldn't surprise us
if he won, but even we don't know if he has the right stuff-the stamina,
the will, the "intangibles." Lots of first-round picks end up on the CBA
waiver wire. Hell, Wines could even write one decent article and be gone by
the first round. Even the greatest athletes have down days.

This is the second year of this annual competition, and it coincides with
the eXile's fourth anniversary. The beginning of this tournament finds
almost all of us here at the paper at the end of our ropes. While this is
psychologically painful for us, it should make for good entertainment for
U, the reader, because simple commentary, even on a scale as excessive as
this tournament, will no longer be sufficient to satisfy our aggressive
urges. There will be a surprise somewhere in this tournament, a big, messy
one, and we can pretty much guarantee that not everyone will find it all
that funny.

Some of you will, however. So without further ado, here's the opening round
of March Madness 2001.

Michael Wines (1), New York Times, def. Marc Franchetti, Sunday Times (UK)

When Franchetti talked to our surgically-altered black sideline reporter
Dwayne Steele before this matchup, he was not confident. "I don't really
feel I can compete in this tournament against the American press," he said.
"We're an English broadsheet. We don't really have what it takes. I mean,
they're The New York Times , for God's sake."

Indeed, if Franchetti hoped to depose number one seed Michael Wines, he was
going to have to do better than his January 28 effort, "Gorbachev's in-law
left to rot in asylum." I mean, just look at the lead:

Above: will the glass-slipper fit Knign-Ridder's Dave Montgomery?
Below: Szcerbiak made his name with a first-round splash.

"The brother in-law of Mikhail Gorbachev, the former Soviet leader, has
spent the past 13 years in a bleak psychiatric hospital in southern Russia,
abandoned by his family."

You can't get away with play like that at the Big Dance; studs like Wines
will jump in the passing lanes every time, snatch the ball away, and race
down court for a breakaway dunk in three steps. To get through in this
tournament, you have to at least throw in a superfluous adjective
somewhere. Franchetti just didn't make the plays, and suffered the
consequences. He was pummeled in the opener by Wines's January 21 effort,
"Russia's Latest Dictator Goes By the Name of Law."

This effort by The Times is yet another in a long series of "There are two
sides to every coin" pieces that have run in the mainstream press about
Putin. Wines, who last year wrote an atrocious 4,700-word blowjob profile
of Putin, takes here the position that Putin's "Dictatorship of Law" is
just that-a dictatorship in which Putin makes "pitiless" use of the law to
impose order. In other words, this is an authoritarian regime that
exercises its authority legally, if brutally. He address the brutality
aspect later, but early on in the piece, he makes it clear that there is an
upside to whatever the heck it is that Putin is doing:

"Through deft and sometimes pitiless use of Russia's convoluted legal
system, Mr. Putin's Kremlin has managed to produce a measure of order and
even modest prosperity that his embattled successor, Boris N. Yeltsin,
could only dream of."

First of all, this is bullshit-by no rational standard could today's Russia
be considered "modestly prosperous." If oil prices were even a shade lower,
even the macroeconomic indicators in this country would be among the worst
in the world. That's not even taking into consideration what life is really
like out there for most Russians, which is to say, not changed
significantly from the eat-your-own-feces Yeltsin years.

Secondly, Wines doesn't even address the idea that Putin's style of
government might be illegal. He doesn't mention allegations surrounding the
apartment bombings of two summers ago, for instance, or bring up the
numerous beatings of journalists which seem very clearly to be the work of
Putin's people. Wines adds insult to injury farther down in the piece when
he brazenly rewrites history by saying that Yeltsin "rewrote an entire
constitution after putting down a communist putsch in 1993." The communist
putsch was in 1991, Michael. The '93 uprising was led by what even the most
conservative observers usually called a red-brown coalition. And the real
putsch came when Yeltsin dissolved the parliament, not when the parliament
refused to be dissolved. Whatever. When you're The New York Times, you can
be flexible about details. As Alice B. Toklas said, "A putsch is a putsch
is a putsch."

Actually, if you read Wines's piece closely, it appears as a massive and
shameless apology for dictatorial government. After listing all of the
various "prosecutions" now being undertaken, Wines writes: "The Kremlin
insists no one is being prosecuted unfairly, and in a sense, it may be
right…. Everyone in Russia is guilty; the only issue is who gets caught."

Well, hell, if everyone's guilty…. The next thing you know, The Times will
be calling for all Russians to turn themselves in to their local police
stations. For over a year now, Wines has been the chief apologist for the
new dictatorship, and that's why he was seeded first in this tournament.
He's living up to his billing. Wines through to round two; Marc Franchetti,
better luck next year.

Full article at: http://www.exile.ru/press.php

Louis Proyect
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